THE ROAD NOT IMAGINED! Alexander, Kristof and Walsh get it wrong--and Milbank gets it right: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JULY 19, 2010
Hannity and Colmesand Malik Shabazz: Did the Justice Department mishandle a voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party? Race was all over the news last week. This story was one of the vehicles.
Before we recommend a new column, lets sing some words of praise for this report by Tom Allison of Media Matters.
The New Black Panther Party has never been an especially influential groupunless you were watching the Fox News Channel during parts of the last decade. In particular, the now-defunct program Hannity & Colmes interviewed New Black Panther leaders with great regularity, offering silly, ginned-up examples of High Racial Tension and Peril. For an example of the kind of nonsense this program routinely offered, heres the start of an interview in 2003the first appearance by Malik Shabazz since becoming the partys national chairman:
Shabazz was demanding a big bag of money! This sort of nonsense was routinely churned on Hannity & Colmes during the last decade. In his report at Media Matters, Allison listed the dozens of times New Black Panther leaders were featured on Fox programs, most often on Hannity & Colmes. Indeed, Shabazz appeared on this program so much, it almost could have received a face lift. At times, we thought the program might change its name to Hannity and Colmesnow, with Malik Shabazz!
These appearances were silly, clownish Cable Race Theater. Just consider the actual context surrounding this particular case:
According to a Nexis survey, there had been exactly zero headlines about this demand for $20,000 from Morristown. Well assume that Shabazz actually held the press conference Colmes described. But according to Nexis, no one other than Hannity & Colmes ever bothered to mention it. On July 2, two newspapers (Newsday and the New York Daily News) had done short news reports about the fact that the Panthers were going to do another Million Youth March. But each report was 300 words longand each stressed the troubled history of this event. The most recent, in Harlem in 2000, drew only a few hundred people, the Daily News reported.
That was the full extent of the news coverage preceding this Hannity & Colmes gong-show. But so what? The boys were soon debating Shabazz about who caused 9/11. (You want to put that blame on the mantle of George W. Bush? a troubled Alan Colmes gasped.)
This interview was a ludicrous cable con; Colmes opening statement was a lie. In this way, this gruesome program tried to gin up racial excitement among its millions of viewers. Very few liberals have mentioned this history in the discussions of the past few weeksbut then, very few liberals ever watch actual programs on Fox. We send our compliments to Allison for recording this pitiful history.
For an intriguing column about another part of Americas racial fabric, we recommend this New York Times column by Ross Douthat, which we hope to discuss at a later date. Also, this fascinating review of the new book, Freedom Summer, also from todays Times.
THE ROAD NOT IMAGINED (permalink): In his basic assessment, wed have to say that Andrew Alexander was right: the Washington Post should have reported the New Black Panther story sooner than it did. (Alexander is the Posts ombudsman. To read his assessment, click here.)
Point of comparison: The New York Times did a full news report on the New Black Panther flap on Wednesday, July 7. The Post didnt publish a comparable effort until Thursday, July 15. On that day, Krissah Thompsons report was clear and well-writtenthough it did have at least one major shortcoming, as was true with the Times report. But this story had become a major flap long before Thompsons report appeared. The Post was slow off the mark in reporting this topic, just as Alexander says.
Joan Walshs claims to the side (see below), Alexander doesnt hugely take sides in this dispute, which has boiled up from conservative sources. But we were struck by one key passage in Alexanders report.
In the passage posted below, Alexander imagines who might turn out to be at fault if the Post would just get off its duff and report this complex affair. For our money, Alexander is reasonably fair-and-balanced in his presentationas far as hes willing to go.
That said, he fails to mention one obvious possible miscreant. He leaves this one party alone.
Theres a road Alexander refused to imagine. Who might turn out to be wrong in this case? A rather obvious possibility doesnt seem to have entered his head:
We agree with Alexanders basic framework. This story has become a major controversy, one which screams for clarification. But Alexander imagines three possible villains emerging from future Post reporting. In fairness, two of the three are conservative villains. (The current Commission on Civil Rights is dominated by conservatives.) But he fails to imagine a fourth.
Who might turn out to be wrong in this matter? Do you mind if we rewrite that passage, giving Alexander a backbonereminding him of the possible villain he chose to ignore?
There! Do you see how easy it was to mention that fourth possible villain?
Might we share a dirty secret? In its endless reports on this matter, Fox News has been rather aggressively misinforming millions of viewers. On the OReilly Factor, for instance, the initial complaint involved a flat misstatement, as we noted last week. (The decision not to bring criminal charges was made under the Bush Administration. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/13/10.) Meanwhile, how absurd was OReillys work by the end of last week? On Thursday night, he complained that the Obama Administration decided not to pursue legal action against New Black Panther chairman Malik Shabazz, even though Shabazz has admitted that he ordered the action at the Philadelphia poll. Sadly, this is the kind of consummate nonsense which passes for proof on Fox:
Really? That constitutes an admission? But this is the sort of logic which constitutes proof on Fox.
As Alexander noted, Fox has been stirring up a great deal of fury about this controversy. But when he listed his possible villains, it didnt even enter his head that Fox might turn out to be at fault, if the Post would just do its reporting. In this manner, Alexander took the route of professional courtesya route which mainstream journalists often take in matters like this.
Alas! Life is much easier when mainstream journalists dont challenge the work of news orgs like Fox. For another example of this spineless deference, consider Nicolas Kristofs warmed-over column on climate change in yesterdays New York Times.
Kristof discussed a significant story: NASA says that the January-through-June period this year was the hottest globally since measurements began in 1880. (On Friday, USA Today reported this story on its front page, sourcing it to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.) Kristof offered a thoroughly familiar rumination about the possible long-term consequences of this matter. He offered the standard, hackneyed old stuff about the frog in the boiling water; he asked the standard, hackneyed old questions about whether we humans will react to this news in time. Surely, Kristofs readers have encountered these frameworks a hundred times beforefor example, in the Oscar-winning 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth. But there was a much more recent matter which Kristof avoided mentioningthe stupid clowning which went on display in the wake of Washingtons snowstorm this year. To the extent that we humans get conned by the clowns who staged that world-class nonsense, then nowe wont react in time. But Kristof failed to mention this ludicrous conduct, which was widely presented on Fox.
Kristof loves to pose as a moral exemplar. But alas! Life for such giants is much easier when they dont challenge Fox.
(USA Today mentioned last winters snow in its front-page report, citing the NOAA report: Heavy snow, like the record snows that crippled Baltimore and Washington last winter, is likely to increase because storms are moving north. This offered a perfect chance to tell the world about the silly clowns who distort the climate debate.)
We cant go inside Kristofs head to find the cause of his omission. We cant say why Alexander failed to imagine the possibility that Fox has been at fault. We can tell you thiscareful, self-dealing mainstream journalists constantly take this cowardly path. And hurrah! Today, were able to hail Dana Milbank for taking a different approach.
Some scorn Milbank as Dowdinpants, a fatuous inside player. But in Sundays Post, Milbank hammered the ludicrous people who have been comparing Obama to Hitler and Stalin. In the process, he was willing to go where the rubbers been meeting the road:
Milbank could have taken the safer route. Like Kristof, he could have pretended that Fox News doesnt exist. To his credit, Milbank went where the lunacy has been most frequent. He went to Becks widely-viewed program.
Alexander was right in his basic assessmentthe Post should have started reporting the New Panther story sooner. Kristof was right in his canned report about the frog and the jar. But each of these men showed a standard old strain of mainstream press corps deference. These powdered fellows agreed to pretend that Fox News barely exists.
One way or another, will we boil in a jar? If mainstream journalists keep acting this way, the chances are good that we will.
Walsh may have been worse: Meanwhile, if its pseudo-liberal cant you enjoy, just drink in Joan Walshs absurd account of Alexanders piece. In paragraph 2, the perfect nonsense commences:
Did Alexander chide his paper for ignoring this story while valiant journalists like Fox's Megyn Kelly, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh fought to bring light to the darkness? Good God. Limbaugh and Hannity arent mentioned by Alexander; Kelly is only mentioned when Alexander quotes a statement by Sarah Palin. (According to Alexander, Palins statement shows that ideology and party politics are at play in the Panther dispute.)
Throughout her piece, Walsh seems offended because Alexander has chided his paper for ignoring the Panther story. At the same time, Walsh chides herself for failing to have Salon cover the story more. Walsh is certainly right on that point. Like other liberal publications (Media Matters valiantly excluded), Salon sat around and twiddled its thumbs while this story picked up steam via Fox. Maybe Joan ought to take a look in the mirror, instead of making up silly claims about what Alexander has said.
Walsh includes some important information which Alexander might have included in his piece. Specifically, Alexander might have referred to this debunking piece in the National Review by Abigail Thernstrom, one of six conservatives on the eight-member Civil Rights Commission. (Almost surely, Alexander had written his piece before Politico reported its later interview with Thernstrom. But Thernstroms piece in the Review appeared on July 6.) That said, might we offer a bit of advice? It isnt smart to make liberals dumb by misstating facts in so blatant a fashion. And if were trying to affect the mainstream press corps, the mainstream press will simply stop reading when we offer ludicrous claims like that claim in Walshs second paragraph.
By the way, Alexander isnt the only major player who has failed to mention Thernstroms piece. According to a Nexis search, Thernstroms name has never been mentioned on Fox News in all its wailing about the Panthers! That is just another example of the malpractice conducted at that channel.
Fox viewers have been played again, kept from hearing Thernstroms objections. But alas! As with Kristof, so with Alexander: Mentioning this obvious, ongoing problem was a road too far.